Teething, the process of baby (primary) teeth coming through the gums into the mouth, is variable among individual babies. Some babies get their teeth early and some get them late. In general, the first baby teeth to appear are usually the lower front (anterior) teeth and they usually begin erupting between the age of 6-8 months. See "Eruption of Your Child’s Teeth" for more details.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay (Early Childhood Caries)
One serious form of decay among young children is baby bottle tooth decay. This condition is caused by frequent and long exposures of an infant’s teeth to liquids that contain sugar. Among these liquids are milk (including breast milk), formula, fruit juice and other sweetened drinks.
Putting a baby to bed for a nap or at night with a bottle other than water can cause serious and rapid tooth decay. Sweet liquid pools around the child’s teeth giving plaque bacteria an opportunity to produce acids that attack tooth enamel. If you must give the baby a bottle as a comforter at bedtime, it should contain only water. If your child won't fall asleep without the bottle and its usual beverage, gradually dilute the bottle's contents with water over a period of two to three weeks.
After each feeding, wipe the baby’s gums and teeth with a damp washcloth or gauze pad to remove plaque. The easiest way to do this is to sit down, place the child’s head in your lap or lay the child on a dressing table or the floor. Whatever position you use, be sure you can see into the child’s mouth easily.
Sucking is a natural reflex and infants and young children may use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects on which to suck. It may make them feel secure and happy, or provide a sense of security at difficult periods. Since thumb sucking is relaxing, it may induce sleep.
Thumb sucking that persists beyond the eruption of the permanent teeth can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and tooth alignment. How intensely a child sucks on fingers or thumbs will determine whether or not dental problems may result. Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs.
Children should cease thumb sucking by the time their permanent front teeth are ready to erupt. Usually, children stop between the ages of two and four. Peer pressure causes many school-aged children to stop.
Pacifiers are no substitute for thumb sucking. They can affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs. However, use of the pacifier can be controlled and modified more easily than the thumb or finger habit. If you have concerns about thumb sucking or use of a pacifier, consult your pediatric dentist.
A few suggestions to help your child get through thumb sucking:
Instead of scolding children for thumb sucking, praise them when they are not.
Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety, instead of the thumb sucking.
Children who are sucking for comfort will feel less of a need when their parents provide comfort.
Reward children when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods, such as when being separated from their parents.
Your pediatric dentist can encourage children to stop sucking and explain what could happen if they continue.
If these approaches don’t work, remind the children of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. Your pediatric dentist may recommend the use of a mouth appliance.
Begin cleaning the baby’s mouth with a clean damp washcloth. Avoid putting baby to bed with a bottle, sippy cup or while breastfeeding. This habit may cause cavities when your baby has teeth especially if milk, formula, juice or other sweetened liquid is used.
Only water should be put in a bottle or cup if your child cannot fall asleep without it. While your baby is breastfeeding, wipe the teeth with a damp washcloth as soon as he or she falls asleep and stops sucking. Sharing items such as spoons, pacifiers, toothbrushes and toys can spread cavity-causing germs between caregiver and baby and between babies themselves.
Start a habit of brushing twice a day when the first tooth comes in. Use soft-bristled toothbrushes designed for babies with water or a very small amount of non-fluoridated toothpaste. Fluoride containing toothpaste can be used when your child can spit. Consult your pediatrician or pediatric dentist about other sources of fluoride supplementation for your child.
It is normal for a baby to cry while tooth brushing. Babies also cry when they are bathed, dressed or changed. Be calm and methodical while continuing to give proper care to your child’s teeth.
With time he/she will appreciate your gentle attention to his/her teeth and will allow you to clean without protest.